A pandemic offers a distinctly unique opportunity to reflect on social climates and normalities. Over the past year, people sought solace in escapist mediums such as film and literature to offer perspective and light relief during a time of uncertainty. A book that provided this for me was Aldous Huxley’s alarmingly prophetic dystopian novel ‘Brave New World’ which offers a depiction of a society propelled forward by a hedonistic pursuit of pleasure and the advancements of modern technology and medicine.
For many, dystopian literature offers comfort through the perspective it offers in regards to our own lives, and the images of savagery and totalitarianism did in some respects make lockdown more bearable. Huxley’s exploration of the potential dangers of technology and science, and the inconsequential power of governments to implement and perpetuate class and social divides through discrete and normalised means seemed highly relevant to contemporary society, and the novel seemed more literal than allegorical.
During a time whereby technology and science are two of the most prevalent disciplines in everyday life, even more so due to COVID-19 which has essentialised the social and practical elements of technology and the development of new medicines and treatments, Huxley’s novel is arguably more relevant than ever. What once was interpreted as a starkly dystopian and removed depiction of the near future is now a disconcerting familiar vision of modern life. If the prioritisation of modern medicine and genetic engineering is no longer an unfamiliar and foreign ideology, then perhaps neither is the egoism and passivity of the ‘utopic’ society depicted in the novel.
The past year has provided a portal through which society has had the opportunity to become introspective and seek out ways to improve itself, and it is arguable that we should consider the warnings provided by the past’s visions of what constitutes a dystopian future as we enter the 2020s. During a time of intense political social turmoil, Huxley’s depiction of the future is indeed highly comparable. The totalitarian regime of The World state is not achieved through pugnacity or violence, but rather conformity is slowly implemented through the encouragement of consumerism and sexuality and an intractable class system that ensures that society functions in a seamless manner. This vision can be said to be becoming our reality, which poses the question of whether such a lifestyle has been normalised to an unhealthy extent. This year’s various lockdowns disrupted the previous monotony of capitalism and consumerism, causing a major shift in the working of society and the status of an individual in relation to the workforce. Likewise, the catharsis achieved through social promiscuity became illegal as people were indefinitely confined to their homes. The consequences of this is immense social unrest and economic turbulence which highlight how deeply integrated capitalism and social interaction are within the human experience.
What has become apparent is not only our economic and behavioural desire to work, but also our ingrained social impulse to, a concept which Huxley highlights through his characters unwavering loyalty to their assigned class of Delta Beta Gama or Alpha. The society in Huxley’s world is stabilised by the release
offered by the recreational drug Soma and the social conditioning undergone by individuals at ‘birth’, which arguably are the pacifying tools of Western society. The question of whether this is detrimental to the human condition is answered by Huxley at the novel’s ending, but the view he asserts may be slightly pessimistic. Despite the social and economic pressures implemented by capitalism and modern society, the pandemic has highlighted the purpose and meaning social and laborious interaction offers us, with nations and communities coming together in defiance of isolation as the nostalgia of what once was ‘normal’ transformed into a universal sentiment.